Thursday, May 01, 2008

Age of Consent

The post on Yearning for Zion has generated a fair amount of response. I thank those readers for their thoughtful commentary.

But the question of at what age may minors consent to sex and/or marriage is indeed an interesting one.

While I maintain that the FLDS sect is an abomination because I can't imagine how a modern society can accept the concept of arranged marriage and by extension, the forced pregnancy of young girls, I do not think that teenagers are necessarily unable to consent to sex.

There is a HUGE difference between teenagers freely choosing to express their sexuality with peers and being forced by tradition to accept a role they would not choose in a modern 21st century environment.

Marty Klein of Sexual Intelligence is a strong supporter of teen's rights and had this to report on his recent guest appearance on 20/20.

20/20, Age of Consent--and Me

A few weeks ago, 20/20 did an hour on various aspects of Age of Consent laws. I'm pleased to say they really got it right.

I was on screen for almost a minute (that's a year in TV time), pointing out how fear of sexuality is driving public policy about teens--who society trusts to drive and to work, but not to have sex. 20/20 showed the cover of my current book, with a voiceover describing the War On Sex. Very cool.

The program interviewed a number of teens who were arrested for having consenting sex with "underage" partners--that is, other teens who can't legally consent to sex. The boys' punishments ranged from probation to jail to lifetime registration as sex offenders.

Host John Stossel was appropriately indignant about this horrible injustice. The show gave airtime to lawmakers, the fathers of teen girls whose boyfriends had been arrested, and even vigilantes devoted to publicizing the home addresses of people busted for consenting sex with teens.

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council said the solution to teen sex was for people to not have sex before they marry. It's an idea rejected by virtually all Americans (who now typically marry for the first time at 25), but various policy-makers on the show said that criminalizing sex that isn't wise may deter a few young people from making mistakes. As for the boyfriends and fianc├ęs who can't get jobs or housing because they've been busted for sleeping with their girlfriends, one state lawmaker described that as "a necessary evil."

That's probably not the phrase he would use if it were his son whose life was destroyed for having sex with the girl who loved him.

ABC's article about this is pretty thoughtful, and even quotes me with facts about how rates of rape and teen pregnancy are declining--contrary to the predictions of those terrified or enraged by the increasing sexualization of our culture.

Some say you can judge a society by how it treats animals. Maybe we should also judge a society by how it treats human beings with adult bodies acting on adult feelings in private--who happen to be under 18.

"Reprinted from Sexual Intelligence, copyright © Marty Klein, Ph.D. ("

Teenagers have rights, and it our duty to respect them.


John said...

Incidentally, for the gay and lesbians readers of this blog, despite the hetero-normative language of this particular essay by Dr. Klein, he is a strong supporter of gay rights.

I urge you to read his excellent blog which is updated monthly.

John Hosty-Grinnell said...

Thanks for the heads up on the website John. I'm going over to read that now.